NC JUSTICE NEWS: Childcare Subsidies + "Secure Communities" + Education Budget Cuts

March 29, 2011

CHILDCARE SUBSIDIES: The Best Start for Students and Their Families

In order to bolster the state's economic recovery, North Carolina must ensure that workers hold onto their jobs and foster the healthy development of children.

The NC Division of Child Development’s child-care subsidies program achieves both these goals by enabling working parents to keep their jobs, spurring job creation in the child-care sector, and giving children access to high-quality care. Child care can be the most expensive item in a family’s budget, eating up earnings and often forcing families to choose between work, placing their children in inadequate care arrangements, or paying for basic living necessities. By providing financial aid to offset the high cost of child care, the subsidies program supports parents while they work or pursue opportunities.

Yet there is a massive waiting list for child-care subsidies, as the number of eligible children has skyrocketed during the economic downturn. It is critical that North Carolina policymakers consider the impact of budget cuts on the child-care subsidy program, which acts as an essential part of the state’s early childhood education system. As 30 percent of Smart Start funds go to child care subsidies, the effects of budget cuts will be cyclical – a cut to subsidies will negatively impact critical early childhood programs like Smart Start and More At Four, and vice versa. Lawmakers have the power to protect an industry that employs thousands of North Carolinians and drives local economic growth, as well as develops the future leaders of the state.

SECURE COMMUNITIES: ICE’s Controversial Program

New analysis of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency data shows that large numbers of immigrants without criminal convictions are being deported from the United States under the controversial Secure Communities program.

Secure Communities allegedly focuses on high-level dangerous criminals by linking ICE’s database to those of local law enforcement agencies. Yet the data show that 1 in 4 individuals deported in the country under Secure Communities haven’t been convicted of a crime. More than 40 percent of individuals deported from Durham, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties have not been convicted of any crime, putting them among the counties with the highest percentage of non-criminal deportees in the country.

It's perhaps unsurprising that John Morton, director of ICE, admitted at a House Appropriations hearing that the agency knowingly removes non-criminals through Secure Communities. Yet abuse of the program clearly points toward the potential for racial profiling and the circumvention of due process by local officials.

BUDGET CUTS: Contrasting the Options

Education is a prime target of those at the General Assembly who want to take a "cuts-only" approach to balancing the state budget. Legislative leaders announced their intent to cut $1.4 billion from the state's education budget next year—$763 million more than all education cuts proposed in the governor’s budget.

Such cuts would considerably undermine generations of public investments in the University of North Carolina system. And these cuts are avoidable. The Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center has outlined revenue options that would make it possible to keep public higher education in North Carolina affordable, preserve hundreds of full- and part-time teaching jobs, and offset the cost of providing health care to hundreds of low-income children and families at UNC Hospitals. For example, instead of raising tuition on all UNC campuses, as the legislature is considering to save $90 million, the BTC instead proposes that North Carolina stop allowing multi-state corporations to shelter profits from the state corporate income tax. This alternative would bring in $100 million.

The BTC’s proposal cuts zero UNC jobs and creates more than $200 million in revenue, whereas the cuts-only approach lays off hundreds of individuals working in the state university system. For decades, the quality education available to UNC campuses has served as a route for economic advancement for families and the state as a whole. By taking a balanced approach to the budget shortfall, legislators can ensure that public higher education stays strong and affordable.

HEALTH REFORM: First Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the healthcare reform bill into law, ushering in a new era for progressive coverage for all Americans.

In the past year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act protected countless individuals from being denied health coverage and created thousands of jobs. Citizens for Responsible Health Care, a North Carolina coalition of consumer and advocacy groups, celebrated the act's anniversary by focusing on North Carolina citizens who experienced the ills of a flawed healthcare system and support the health reform law to improve lives. These citizens suffered doubly when they realized their ailments—from birth defects to breast cancer—wouldn't be covered by health insurance. Their testimonies prove that the Affordable Care Act is aiding men, women, and small businesses who rely on comprehensive healthcare to support their families and employees.

Check out Citizens for Responsible Health Care’s videos on the nchealthaccess YouTube Channel to learn about how access to quality health care changes families and communities—and the tragedies that happen when care isn't available.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Luncheon on charter schools with Dr. Helen Ladd

The debate over charter schools in North Carolina is about much more than school choice and education innovation. There has been an effort in the General Assembly to use charter schools as a tool for taking money away from and undermining traditional schools. And while charter schools may foster innovation—whether they do is certainly debatable—they also encourage racial and economic segregation.

So what are the benefits and drawbacks of charter schools, and is expanding them a good idea? Join NC Policy Watch for a Crucial Conversation luncheon on charter schools on Wednesday, March 30 at Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh. Dr. Helen Ladd, a Duke professor of economics and public policy who studies education policy worldwide, will be there to explain the implications of North Carolina’s charter schools law and the proposed changes. State Rep. Rick Glazier of Cumberland, one of the General Assembly’s most knowledgeable and thoughtful voices on public education, will also speak.

TAX EXPENDITURE: A Fix for the Budget Shortfall

State lawmakers appear to be turning a blind eye to a program that could offer an easy solution to fixing the state’s budget shortfall.

Between 2005 and 2009, costs of tax expenditures in North Carolina rose by 40 percent, leaping from $3.57 billion to $5.85 billion. Tax expenditure programs give businesses special tax credits, exemptions, deductions, refunds and exclusions that reduce the amount of tax revenue collected. Tobacco and alcohol distributors, for example, get tax breaks for filing their reports and collections on time, a privilege not given to everyday citizens. The state gives massive tax breaks to multistate corporations by allowing them to shift profits made in North Carolina to other states, thereby avoiding additional taxes. In short, many tax expenditures do little to help the common citizen and instead benefit politically favored companies or narrow special interests.

In addition, most tax expenditures lack clear goals and are rarely evaluated, so these programs are unaccountable to legislators or taxpayers. It's time for legislative leaders to take a close look at these expenditures as a tool for addressing the budget shortfall.


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